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Marquis Flowers’ special-teams expertise could net Patriots a quick return on investment

With 618 snaps on special teams through his first 32 NFL games, Marquis Flowers has ready-made value.

Indianapolis Colts v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Most seventh-round picks don’t end up on the right side of the September roster cut, but the linebacker the New England Patriots acquired in exchange for one Tuesday likely will.

Marquis Flowers is entering his fourth season after initially arriving as a late-rounder himself. He’s entering the final leg of his rookie contract, though with an area of expertise that should help him see it through.

The safety-turned-linebacker out of Arizona was selected No. 212 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2014 draft, and soon made his mark running 50 yards downfield a dozen or so times per game.

That was part of the plan with Flowers. When it came to the undersized non-combine invite who’d logged only two years at linebacker in a 3-3-5 front, much was based on projection. The hope was that over time he’d develop into a space player in nickel situations. In the meantime, there was another task to be handled.

“He ran 4.5 flat, had like a 37.5-inch vertical at his pro day,” then-Cincinnati linebackers coach Matt Burke said upon drafting Flowers that May, via “… Really, he’s just a long, fast kid that can run and move in space. I think that carries some special-teams value for us as we move forward with him.”

It’s why Flowers played in all 16 games for the Bengals during his rookie year and all 16 again last year, despite spending the entirety of 2015 on injured reserve with a shoulder ailment. It’s how, despite having just 72 defensive snaps on his NFL resume, the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has never been a healthy scratch.

Flowers has amassed 618 snaps on special teams.

During his first campaign in the league, Flowers contributed three tackles in the third phase and was present for 68.2 percent of the action, which ranked second on the Bengals behind Shawn Williams. In his most recent campaign, he registered eight stops in the kicking game – third-most on the team – while participating in 69.6 percent to land second behind only Clayton Fejedelem.

It’s applicable experience. It’s the kind that compelled New England to send an unconditional 2018 seventh-round choice to Cincinnati just days before rosters go from 90 to 53.

Flowers has made one start on defense, and he’s been credited with one pass deflection and a quarterback hit during his opportunities there. He’s briefly stood in as a weak-side linebacker behind Vontaze Burfict and a strong-side linebacker behind Emmanuel Lamur. But after a season in which the 25-year-old stood in for just two defensive plays, neither alignment is the main reason he now stands in Foxborough.

Flowers has ready-made value elsewhere.

The Patriots likely saw that on film as he and fellow newcomer Rex Burkhead chased down returners together last year. They likely saw where that could come into play with the current circumstances at linebacker.

New England has been without Shea McClellin, who hasn’t practiced since the first week of August, and undrafted rookie Harvey Langi, who has missed the last couple days of sessions despite leading the club in special-teams tackles this preseason. Also slowed of late has been Elandon Roberts, a third-day draft choice last year, who did not appear in last Friday’s win over the Detroit Lions after exiting with a rib injury the exhibition prior. Maybe all of whom will be around after 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 2. Maybe there’s more depth required even so.

Can Flowers work his way into a similar role as that of Jonathan Freeny or Barkevious Mingo in 2017? We’ll know soon enough. But based on what he has been asked to do on kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return to this point in his NFL career, there’s reason to think Flowers will be around awhile.

New England traded for him with more than Thursday’s preseason finale in mind.